Eyes Not HisAuthor: speak_me_fairPlay:
Henry IV Parts 1 and 2Recipient: likeadeuceCharacter(s)/Pairing(s):
Harry Percy (Hotspur), Kate Percy, Hal Lancaster, Poins, FalstaffWarnings:
violent sex, violence in general, AU, space operaRating:
Hal has a plan, Kate Percy commands the ci-pilot Corps, and Falstaff is a genius. Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
The first time Hal Lancaster, heir to what was something no-one ever wanted to call a crown (it was a Republic, there were no crowns spoken of save the one destroyed by his father) saw the difference between love-making and sex, it was the second of the two that he was watching; pure sex and pure need and all of it involved so many disintegrating body-modifications that even he, who had grown up admiring the mods and wanting some of his own ever since he could put words to what they did, had to take a second look before he realised that the shredding metal and leather were not parts of the flesh that the two ci-pilots were ripping away from one another.
Transitory mods, then, used for the last flight, which meant he could only be looking at one couple – and they were
a couple, this pair, in the way that most ci-teams never considered (too much to have two bonds like that set up, to involve love on top of the mental bond needed to work together as pilots wasn't only discouraged, it was just plain stupid
) – because only one team in the whole outfit used something that difficult to control, that temporary, that outright dangerous.
As if what they did wasn't dangerous enough, Hal thought with contempt, even as he tried to think of a way to get out of the corridor without being seen, without adding a personalized little dread to it.
Harry and Kate Percy were insane
It didn't help that he envied them like hell for their freedom to be so, even as they tore each other down to their own skins without any sense of mercy or even commonplace affection; Kate's short nails emerging from under her metal glove-claws as Harry ripped them away, the neat clipped curves shining with her own blood and probably Harry's too (Kate loved
blood on her hands and the whole Corps knew it, how she restricted herself to a ci-pilot team rather than being in the land-based artillery only – possibly – Harry knew, and he wasn't saying); Harry's familiar wild laugh somehow echoing off the muffled corridor walls as though it were coming over his micro. He sounded – but then he always did – as though he had blood in his mouth
, which was about the only way Hal could explain to himself how he had managed to earn himself someone as strange and rare and outright frightening as Kate for his full partner.
And he was still stuck outside his door in the damned corridor, and if he triggered the controls to get back in, they'd notice him, and if he stayed where he was, they were bloody well bound to notice him (possibly literally, which didn't bear thinking about in too much depth) and if he moved –
Well, if he moved, he wasn't likely to get their attention in any sort of friendly way, because if they were so hyped that they hadn't even waited for a room or at least a sleep-alcove before starting this, they were definitely too hyped not to respond unfavourably to something catching their peripheral attention.
He thanked whatever gods there might be for the fact that even if they did
notice him, he had the best mod there was going, created just for him by the fat old designer with the crafty-mad genius; made just for him
, to his
specifications, by under-the-radar Falstaff, who made beautiful, delightful, and completely
Hal Lancaster had a full-body holo.
He just hoped it was enough to keep him safe from this particular insanity.
It had been the only way he was ever going to get into any Corps around, let alone that of the ci-pilots. And he was good, he was more
than good, he had a damn talent for it, and he was not, not, not going to let his father's plans for him take that away; remove from his life the only thing that could ever be his own, however briefly he might be allowed to hold onto it before he was found out.
But full-body, permanent owner-switch-only (OSOs, the Corps called them, those kind of lasting effects) holo-mods were illegal, had been made
so by his father, and Hal's face was too well known – Christ, Hal's way of walking, never mind his face, was too well known – for him to ever be able to apply to anything without some kind of coverup.
He'd been half-way resigned to just giving in and drinking his way through to the day when his father retired (or died, which would probably be more likely) simply to pass the time.
And then he'd spent a bit of time at the cheap drinking-hole off London Base's water-stores, because it was soothing, it was really
soothing, to be around talentless stupid people who just fixed pipes and didn't care about anything but being paid and didn't know what it was to want
things – and he'd heard about Falstaff.
Falstaff, who would do anything for a price, who had once been the best holo-crafter in the whole damn Kingdom, in the days when it still was one, and now that he had been forcibly retired, he still, so Hal was told, couldn't quite bear to give up his skill.
And if there was anything Hal understood, it was that
Also, he had the money.
"Fucking dream creation, this'll be, lucky you found me," Falstaff had said with a wink that somehow managed to be far too knowing and vaguely lecherous all at once, and made Hal feel, for the first time in years, as though he had mis-stepped in some profound way that he would never fully understand.
Of course the man had more experience than him, he was probably as talented in his own odd, illegal way, but it was altogether possible that he was better at manipulation, too –Wouldn't he have to be, to create it?
the cold clever voice of his hind-brain reminded him –
and the thought made Hal's skin crawl, not in revulsion, but with the prickling of adrenaline, the tingling forerunners of a fight to be had, and the knowledge, cold and clear and certain-sure –If this works, no-one will ever be able to see how I really feel or react again
The holo was beautiful.
The holo was hard, and just that little bit older, and had an easy charm in its eyes that Hal had to fight to ever portray on his own behalf. It was the image of a fighter, of a man who could be trusted, of a man who could think on his feet.
The holo was perfect.
On bad days, when he hadn't been able to switch it off for too many consecutive duty-sections, Hal was frightened of it. On worse ones, he hated it.
On his good days, he simply resented that it had to be, and resented, privately, just how damn well Falstaff had made it.
Because it was himself and not himself, it was everything he needed to be and nothing he wanted, it was truth and lies in such expert, inextricable, clever
tangles that sometimes even Hal himself was uncertain as to which of them was the more real.
Sometimes, on the days that went beyond even worse, on the days he couldn't put words to because they just felt like a black hole of wanting nothing but sleep and a drink and the welcoming oblivion of someone's warm body (someone who would be taking his warm-eyed, tough, easy-going appearance to bed, and never him, though the end result would be the same and why should he care?) – on those days, Hal couldn't help but wonder.Which of us is real?
And thanks to Falstaff's genius, he was now trapped in a corridor watching his Corps Commander and her equally crazy partner having very bloody sex up against a wall.
Well. Sort of against the wall. They were using
the wall, at any rate, and oh, this just was. Not. Fair.
Hal was about to move, risks be damned, when Harry Percy looked up, and looked through
him, and his body stilled within the Commander's clawing grasp –
"Sakes, Harry, what –" Kate slid down, and turned with a hiss, metal gloves already sliding back on, but Harry was holding her back, and Hal took a moment to be thankful for the fact that however little he wanted to understand their relationship, here was the only man of the whole Corps who would dare to lay hands on her.
"Well, now there's a turn-up." Harry was staring at him. "Fuck me, Lancaster, what have you done
?" Kate's voice stayed frighteningly level. "You're kidding."
Harry shook his head, slow and amused, and something in Kate relaxed at the gesture, enough so that he let her go. His laugh was wild as ever as she stepped to his side, but he showed no signs of violence – and nor, oddly, did she. Hal fought the frantic desire to find anything
that would prove to him his reflection was as it should be, and stayed very still, as though he were already at gunpoint.
Harry was grinning, fully aware of his discomfiture, and Hal felt himself redden under that unstoppable amusement, much as he knew it shouldn't be able
to affect him – but Harry Percy knew
, and that should be impossible, and –
"Well, Jesus, boy. When you got your lovely skin made, didn't your designer warn you about the other
kind of holo-mod?"
"Don't tease, Harry." Kate was still quiet, dangerously wary, but Harry only laughed again, head tilting back a little and showing fine, parallel scratches along his stubbled throat.
"Ah, c'mon. He doesn't know
, bonnie lass, he's got no clue –"
"And there are times when your sense of humour needs modding as much as your eyes," Kate said dryly, although she didn't sound annoyed. "I'm sorry, Lancaster. Harry is – a little hyped."
Her flickering eyes, all iris and no pupil showing even in the dimmed corridor lights, showed that so was she, still, though she had more control than anyone at London Base even now.
"Eh." Harry shrugged. "No more than we all are. Just got a sense of humour, me, contrary to what the Commander here says…" His smile was even more worrying than his grin, containing as it did traces of the personalized, sex-driven violence Hal had so unwillingly witnessed moments before.
"Lovely, explain?" Hal managed, his throat tightening despite his best efforts, and forced himself to stay where he was as Harry strode down the corridor to him – and then past
"Got a permanent OSO meself, don't I?" Harry breathed into his ear as he went by, and then called back cheerfully, making Hal turn around to follow his progress, "Only, see, mine
? Can't see holos. Have to turn another temp on so's I can…" He gave Hal a wave, and turned the corner.
!" Hal spat out after him, and turned back to find the Commander way, way too close, and looking at him with the same assessing expression Hal had always imagined spiders wore just before dinner.
"I think we need to talk," said the woman Hal was never – quite – going to be able to stop thinking of as Kate. "Don't you?"
With difficulty, Hal managed not to shudder as he nodded.
But to Hal's disbelief and faint feeling of delirium, he wasn't dismissed from the ci-pilots. He was made to tell the other half of his team, Poins, who fortunately just thought the whole thing was brilliant, but that was it.
"Harry knowing's probably punishment enough, and I'm not about to lose someone who has endless room for temp-mods just because he's a cheat and a liar," had been Kate's summary of the whole situation.
She looked nothing like the woman who loved the glove-mods, with their serrated knife-edges and pointed ends, or even the Commander, half-mad and frightening in her too-great clarity. She just looked like Kate, whom he had known from a child; Kate who had always been better than any of them at every game, Kate whose brother had once been –
Well. Even with the Commander's tacit approval of what Hal had become, it was probably never safe to think openly, even to oneself, of what she and her brother would have been once, were it not for Hal's father and the Kingdom's destruction. Particularly since Hal was fairly sure one of her temp-mods was usually surface mind-picking.
He didn't want to know
what her permanent OSO was.
Harry made bizarre efforts to be what, in his own insane way, counted for friendly, after their meeting in the corridor.
"Man," Poins said in their rooms one evening, both of them a little drunk and hyped at once, always a bad idea that led to stupid actions Hal could never quite regret the next day, since he did
have to be seen as himself now and again, after all, and if that meant going out to behind the water-stores with Poins a bit too often, and getting Falstaff to tweak stuff a bit too much than he really should, well, so be it. "Man, honest, swear to you, if it weren't for him and the Commander? I'd swear my right and
my left hand to God, he's up for it."
"Don't be so bloody stupid
," Hal said contemptuously, and Poins shrugged and laughed, but the thought – stayed.
The thing was –
It wasn't Harry he wanted. No. Wrong. It wasn't just
Harry he wanted.
He wanted to be invited in, he wanted to be part of what he'd seen in the corridor, and that?
That, he was never going to get.
He and Poins went into a space-outing that went horribly, miserably, med-bay wrong, and when Hal was finally let out with nice new skin grafts on his real face that he'd fortunately had the sense to replicate the causes of on his holo-appearance, so that the right places could be touched when the grafts were applied, he felt like fifty kinds of hell.
Poins, still having part of his back reconstructed, wasn't due for escape for another few days, which made their rooms seem even bleaker and more barren than they usually did, and all Hal had energy for was to shoot up the drug cocktail and fall into his bed, thinking that oblivion was going to be the only way out of it.
His appearance, oh fuck, fuck, how was he going to explain what had happened to him, the scar that went quite obviously through
one side of his face, good job though they might have done in the med-bay or not?
He fell asleep eventually, into muddled discordant dreams of fire and Poins losing the ship's control as something tore into him, and Hal had felt that, God he had felt that before he even felt his own pain, because he was too closely linked to the ship and to Poins and to –
"Dreamin'. Wake up."
Harry's familiar voice, impossible and there.
"Broke your code, didn't I?" Harry said then, very much there even to Hal's bleary gaze. An ungloved hand brushed his forehead. "Just wanna know, since I turned off me touch-mod recognisers ages ago an' if you've got yourself one of them built too I won't know – 'm I feelin' y'r skin or you pretendin'? Cos me? I don't got a thing for caring a damn whether someone's holo's breakin' down, but I'd like to know if some fuckwit who fights with me's burnin' up. Which. You are. If it's you."
"Think I probably am," Hal muttered. "Ow."
"Yeah, well, here an' now you're alive, no point moanin'." Harry's voice was rougher than Hal had ever heard it, all blurred consonants and touches of accent he didn't quite recognize, more so than usual. He sounded as though –
As though he'd been in the fires too.
"You and Kate." Hal swallowed, rasping and a little painful. He needed a drink, badly. "You got us out."
"Well, yeah." Harry shrugged. "Can't have the President's heir burning up on our watch, can we?" He sounded a bit more coherent.
"That's why you –" It was oddly searing, the disappointment, and yet a relief. Harry could see who he really was to look at, and so that was all he would ever really be. Well, there were worse things.
Like being dead, a burned shell in a useless, ever-floating ship, with the carcass of his shattered ship-partner forever welded to the controls.
Oh yes, there were many, many worse things.
Harry looked down at him, his expression an odd mixture of grim and concerned. "Yeah. And 'cos we think you're going to be worth it. Not yet, scuttle-boy, not yet. But you – you fight, you fight good, yeah, you get us. And – when it's you, when it's you up there tryin' to tell us we shouldn't be wanting what we had an' it's all good? Maybe we'll be more likely to believe you."
Hal snorted out painful laughter that made him feel as though he'd just stuffed sandpaper up his nose. "Well, thanks," he said.
"Welcome," Harry said awkwardly. "Need anything before –"
"No." Hal shook his head. "No, I'm fine, they gave me the drugs, should be kicking in."
"Right then." But Harry still hovered, uncertain.
"Harry. I'm fine
. Now bugger off and let me get some sleep."
"Yeah." Harry's twitch of a smile was a long way from his usual vaguely insane joy, but it looked half-way to genuine at least. "See you later, then." He clasped Hal's shoulder briefly, and was gone again, leaving Hal to focus on breathing, and breathing, and not giving in, and not crying, and not hating
what he now knew.
It had, all of it, been because of what he would become.
And none of it for who he was.
He would never be part of what he had seen, he would never even be invited to look at it again, he would never have even a fraction of that joy or that love or that assuagement of need offered to him.
Harry and Kate were themselves entire, and everyone else was as much to be discarded as their temp-mods, as easy to switch off as their OSOs.
The knowledge burned like the laser-fire that had lacerated his face.
When the day came for Hal to show who he was, and who he had been, and what he was about to become, he accepted plaudits and delight and surprise with equally gentle deflection, looking out around him to see who, other than the transmission centres, had bothered to show up in person.
And he saw them, the Commander and her partner, the great ci-pilot team of his father's rule, and he bit down hard on the sour taste of what he would do next.
"So when are you lifting the holo-bans, then, lad?" shouted Falstaff's familiar voice, too-confident and setting Hal's nerves on edge as he always had, and the answer was struck out of him like a hammer on metal before he even suspected that was how he felt, burning through him like sparks of pure misery –All that time and your genius couldn't protect me from the ones I needed not to see me --
-- and he answered before he could even pause to think –
"Now that I know what they can do? Never
There was probably outrage in the voices that surrounded him; devastation on Falstaff's fat face – but he saw none of it.
He saw only the grim, bleak determination in Kate Percy's eyes, the burning betrayal in Harry's.
And he thought –This is what you have made me.
This is what you could have stopped.
This is what you have done.
"This," he said quietly into the roar of indistinguishable sound, "is who I am."
He did not stay to watch them leave.